The Branded Content Studio Experiment Is Over

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, August 11, 2016
The tide is going out on the majority of so-called “native studios,” the feeding frenzy for publishers to rapidly build in-house offerings to leverage the native advertising trend.

The reason? Many are still using native content as a lure to sell more display. But as many marketers assert, it is about the quality and context of the content.

The few winning studios that will thrive understand this; they place this quality value front and center. Those in danger of a cull are still approaching it as a value-add.

The numbers tell the story: Native advertising is on the rise. Business Insider reports that native will make up 76% of digital spend by 2021, with "Sponsored content, which is categorized separately from native-display, due to the direct relationship between publishers and brands in creating the format, [being] the fastest-growing native format over the next five years.”

Who are the winners right now? The New York Times T Brand Studio and Slate.



Some 20% of digital advertising revenue is attributed to the Times’ T Brand Studio. Digital advertising revenue represented 27% of total ad revenue ($662 million) in 2014, meaning were that "20%" figure the case last year, T Brand Studio would have generated around $35.7 million.

Why? The common thread with NYTimes and Slate —they are valuing the content appropriately — it is at the core. It is where the value is exchanged.

What publishers need to think about going forward, is what Keith Hernandez, president at Slate has done. The publisher, having cut his teeth in the native space at BuzzFeed, has turned their proposition upside down. Instead of using the content as a way to sell banners, he has focused on how we can add more value to the content.

"Imagine walking into a restaurant where they tell you the steak is free if you buy an appetizer. You’d probably wonder what’s wrong with the steak. That’s what publishers are doing when they give the most valuable, creative and interesting piece of the puzzle away as added value,” he says.

“When the creative content is simply an added value idea, it can easily be passed on by a client. When creative content is part of a strong strategy, it’s much harder to deny its importance.”

This is what is driving their success for brands that receive value when someone consumes the content -- not when banners load invisibly in the background. People are engaging more with native content, — as much as .8 attention minutes and 67% scroll. Contrast this to other ad formats where success is measured in mere seconds, native content is delivering high attention at scale.

Demonstrating what smart marketers know, consumers click on and engage with content they want to read, and if you reach them in the right place, at the right time with the right format they will engage.

The challenge on the buy side is the buying process; Publishers need to work to make the process easier, leveraging technology. As they have done so in the past, plugging into exchanges, the need will arise for an equivalent for content.

If friction can be reduced, we’ve seen it time and time again, volume will rise. How can we scale content? How do we reduce friction and make it as accessible as search ads are to marketers? These are the questions that are yet to be answered and executed against.

But for publishers, this job isn’t easy, content distribution is evolving, with many now questioning their own technology investments.

Facebook Instant Articles offers distribution and monetization, Medium offers a one stop shop for publishers (with monetization to follow), Apple News offers reach to its 60 million readers and Google AMP offers a blend of the all of the aforementioned — a layer on top of your site optimized for mobile.

Never before has the sense of urgency been so high for publishers, to evolve not only their own technology but their advertising eco-system.

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